A sweeping statement perhaps, but one believed by many given the parlous state of British policing. If ever there was a time to be concerned – now is it.
We have ‘barbarians at the gate’ if we are to believe the Security Services and the Home Secretary. Whilst once again basking in the reflected glory of those entrusted to keep the public safe and who have foiled plot after plot to commit an outrage, she continues to order and orchestrate cuts that will have a catastrophic effect on not only the ability to prevent a ‘terrorist spectacular’ but also the abilty to answer the thousands of 999 calls from the public. I believe the Security Services and I am willing to believe that there have been a number of occasions where we have been incredibly close to suffering a huge loss of life. As the Patrick Magee of the IRA once famously said (following the bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton) , ‘Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always. ..
What we actually need in times like this is leadership, and I’m struggling to find much evidence of this at all. Fly on the wall documentaries might make good television and allow ACPO officers the opportunity (in their opinion) of improving their public image, but they constantly reinforce the polarised opinions of the viewers. Those that support the police will see frontline cops dealing with everything thrown at them as justification for disowning the current government whilst those police-haters will use this as a stage to attempt to justify and threaten civil unrest unless they get their way. The decision to agree to participate in making these shows might unwittingly undermine public confidence further given the apologists who appear to confuse ‘policing with consent’ with ‘policing to appease’
Much of the Home Secretary’s justification for the huge reductions in the numbers of officers is based upon the alleged fall in crime. She is an educated woman surrounded by a coterie of clever people so she must clearly understand that following the Public Administration Select Committee regarding fiddled crime figures and the subsequent withdrawal of the UK Statistics Authority seal of approval – the figures that this (and other governments) have relied upon have been virtually worthless. Overall crime was probably under-recorded by 15-20% and the profile of the crimes that were recorded were massively skewed by classifying crimes as something less serious than they actually were. ACPO were fully aware of this and so were this and the previous government.
When the accuracy of the crime figures was challenged by a very few officers, ACPO’s response was to denigrate the National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS) and the National Standard of Incident Recording (NSIR) as ‘unecessary bureaucracies’ and removed the discretion of the officer. It might also be argued that it mitigated their chances of receiving a performance related pay bonus for reducing recorded crime. The Home Officer were advised of the frailties of the Met’s figures over a number of years and given that the Met contribute 20-25% of crime nationally it was obvious that this impacted far beyond the Met’s boundaries. The old Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) were made aware as were the Mayor’s Office for Police and Crime (MOPAC) and yet nothing was done. Almost as if an unseen hand was guiding the ship towards the rocks.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies appears to be a toothless tiger headed up by a pantomime villain. Staffed by ACPO officers as their lead Inspectors on secondment from forces – you can only guess at their apoetite to get tough with their ACPO colleagues following the results of some disastrous inspection.
The introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners has done nothing to improve things. They are (largely) political animals who either can’t understand what is going on or would rather bury their head in the sand and hope it will all ‘work itself out in the end’. The Police and Crime Panels (PCPs) more often than not compose most of the old members of the Police Authorities so we are probably expecting a bit much to ask them to provide any effective scrutiny of their respective PCCs. They have neither the skill-set nor the appetite to take them on – unless you know otherwise.
So in summary we have a system of completely ineffective governance that has ignored the evidence of malpractice for years and has provided the Home Secretary with all the ammunition she requires to impose the huge cuts to the service. Rather than explain to the serried ranks of officers that NCRS and NSIR might cause additional work and some over-recording of crime, but they actually provide a much more accurate picture of the totality of the demand for service, senior officers decided to stay silent. Prior to NSIR there was no understanding whatsoever of what the profile of police activity actually looked like. Prior to its introduction in the Met, only 2 codes accounted for 60% of calls, neither of which told you anything about the call at all! Can you imagine running any organisation effectively with such an abject lack of understanding of what you actually are being asked to deal with?
My overriding emotion is that of disappointment. The people who provide the frontline service are typified as those who run towards the scene of a bomb rather than away from it, are being led by those who have allowed personal interest and advancement to adversely effect their judgement. History shows that the service only really appears to change following some threshold event – I can only hope that the next change will be predicated upon (1) a change of Home Secretary (unlikely in the short term) (2) a change of government (unlikely for the next 5 years) or (3) a change in the leadership of the service (probably even more unlikely that the first two options)
Perhaps the time is right for something radical?